The Big 12 football season is only two games in, but the race for a conference championship already looks much different.
Kansas State is the new frontrunner thanks to an impressive victory at Oklahoma’s Memorial Stadium, where the Sooners are usually invincible and had never before lost to a ranked opponent under Bob Stoops. Combined with a blowout win over Miami, the No. 7 Wildcats have one of the best resumes in college football.
“It gives us confidence and momentum,” K-State running back John Hubert said. “We just want to rest and keep getting better. We are one of those teams that can be in the top five easily, but we like to be underdogs. It gives us confidence to go out and play hard.”
That always seems to be the dilemma for K-State. When the Wildcats were picked to finish sixth in the conference’s preseason poll, it was easy to play the no-respect card. And they thrived as a 15-point underdog on Saturday. But they are the highest-ranked Big 12 team in the Associated Press poll and will be favored in plenty of games from here.
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K-State hasn’t had to deal with that kind of attention since 2003, the last time it was ranked in the top 10 and won the Big 12 championship game.
“I’m going to have to get back on the coach’s poll so I can get us down in the rankings,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “ Whatever happens in September is not totally relevant to where you are in November. You can’t forget how you got there.”
The Wildcats are where they are because of Collin Klein’s mistake-free play at quarterback, Hubert’s improved running and a defense that doesn’t allow many touchdowns.
But beating Oklahoma doesn’t guarantee all three components will continue working together. K-State’s most difficult test may be over, but plenty of difficult games are still to come. Six of eight remaining opponents are undefeated, and the Wildcats will face four of them – Iowa State, West Virginia, TCU and Baylor — on the road.
Of their final nine games, the only one that doesn’t appear taxing is a home game with Kansas on Oct. 6 (11 a.m. on FX, Channel 31).
The Big 12’s highest-ranked team will have plenty to think about during its off week.
“The important thing is how we handle this initial week,” Snyder said. “If our youngsters respond to it appropriately and we were diligently to stay up and get ahead and improve then it should work out.”
No look passes
What has gotten into offensive coordinators in the Big 12 lately? First, Klein tried a no-look pass behind his back to Chris Harper with K-State one yard away from a touchdown against Miami. Then Landry Jones looked like he was playing hot potato with the football as he awkwardly swatted a no-look pass toward his running back in front of his own end zone on Saturday. Neither play hurt their teams, with K-State dominating Miami from start to finish and Oklahoma scoring a touchdown on the drive after a replay review proved it wasn’t a fumble. But neither risk needed to be taken. Both plays had low upside.
Keeping up with the Joneses
Despite his poor performance against K-State, Jones will remain Oklahoma’s starting quarterback. When asked if he would consider benching Jones for any reason this season during his Monday news conference, Stoops sternly said “no.” He went on to say Jones is trying to do too much and need to learn to settle down in the pocket.
Another conference debut
Morgantown, W.Va., will be rocking Saturday night when Baylor comes to town for West Virginia’s first Big 12 game. It should be a good one. Behind Nick Florence, who is doing a superb job filling in for Robert Griffin III at quarterback, Baylor is undefeated and its offense looks as potent as ever. The Mountaineers are also undefeated behind the play of Heisman Trophy front-runner Geno Smith.
Battle of the unbeatens
Two other undefeated teams will face off in Ames, Iowa, on Saturday. Iowa State is 3-0 and coming off an open week, and so is Texas Tech. The Cyclones have beaten the Red Raiders in back-to-back seasons and throttled Texas Tech on the road a year ago. But Texas Tech’s defense is better this year, and it has put up huge numbers in its three wins against lesser opponents. The winner should move into the top 25 next week.
Ryan Doerr was named Big 12 special teams player of the week on Monday for pinning Oklahoma within its own 20 on all five of his punts Saturday.
The Wildcats: Sporting its highest ranking since 2003, the last time it beat Oklahoma.
Nick Florence: Baylor quarterback is undefeated as the starter and threw for 350 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Louisiana-Monroe.
John Hubert: K-State running back is on pace for a 1,300-yard season.
Brandon Carter: TCU receiver had 128 yards and a touchdown against Virginia.
Dayne Crist: Easy to see why he lost his starting spot at Notre Dame.
KU coaching staff: With better management in the fourth quarter of games, the Jayhawks could be 3-1 instead of 1-3.
Landry Jones: He may own several Oklahoma passing records, but he is not improving with age. OU fans seem ready to see what Blake Bell can do at quarterback.
West Virginia skeptics: Since when is beating an ACC team by double digits considered underwhelming?
What to watch, what to avoid
Must-see games: Baylor at West Virginia
Worth watching: Texas Tech at Iowa State, Texas at Oklahoma State
If there’s nothing better to do: TCU at SMU
Big 12 power rankings
1. Kansas State (4-0): Tough to beat a resume that features wins over Miami and Oklahoma
2. West Virginia (3-0): Mountaineers are psyched for first Big 12 game.
3. Texas (3-0): Are Longhorns back? They will beat Oklahoma State if they are.
4. TCU (3-0): Defense finally allowed a touchdown late against Virginia.
5. Oklahoma (2-1): Sooners looked rattled in K-State loss.
6. Baylor (3-0): Quality win on Friday night.
7. Texas Tech (3-0): Win in Ames and Red Raiders should move into top 25.
8. Iowa State (3-0): Iowa win no longer seems so impressive, but Cyclones have owned Tech lately.
9. Oklahoma State (2-1): Arizona loss looked bad at the time. Looks much worse today.
10. Kansas (1-3): Jayhawks unlikely to move up anytime soon.